By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — There was a time a quarter-century ago when it seemed like the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team would never beat Villanova.
The Wildcats won the first 14 meeting with the Huskies from a Dec. 28, 1981 game played in Jamaica, N.Y. until a Jan. 11, 1989 contest at Villanova. UConn coach Geno Auriemma was 0-8 against Harry Perretta’s Wildcats to start his Hall of Fame career.
But the tables began to turn on Feb. 11, 1989 at the Storrs Field House when Heidi Robbins hit a 3-point shot from the top of the key at the buzzer to give the Huskies a 64-63 win over Villanova en route to their first Big East regular season championship. Not only was it the only trey that Robbins made in 90 career games, it was the only try from behind the arc that she attempted in 541 career shots from the floor.
Heading into tonight’s matchup at the XL Center (7 p.m., SNY), UConn has won 35 of the last 38 meetings with Villanova. The Wildcats’ last win over the Huskies in Connecticut came 20 years ago last Sunday, a 50-44 victory at Gampel Pavilion. The other two victories came back-to-back in 2003-04. Villanova ended UConn’s then-NCAA record 70-game winning streak by beating the Huskies 52-48 in the 2003 Big East tournament final at Rutgers. Just short of a year later, Villanova held off UConn 59-56 at the Pavilion. The Huskies have won nine in a row against the Wildcats since.
But even with UConn’s dominance over most of the last 25 years, Perretta still holds the distinction of having the most victories by an opposing coach against Auriemma’s clubs.
Perretta’s 11 wins give him an edge over former Providence coach Bob Foley (10). Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and ex-Tennessee coach Pat Summitt are tied for third (9) with Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer fifth (8). Six of Stringer’s win came with the Scarlet Knights while the first two came at Iowa. Stringer and Jim Foster (Saint Joseph’s/Vanderbilt) are the only coaches to beat an Auriemma team at two different schools. Foster, now at Ohio State, can make it three different schools next season when the Buckeyes face UConn in Springfield.
Former St. John’s coach and current Villanova top assistant Joe Mullaney Jr. ranks sixth with seven wins over an Auriemma team. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and former Boston College coach Margo Plotzke are tied for seventh (6) while rounding out the top 10 — in a tie for ninth with five — are former Syracuse coach Barb Jacobs and former Miami (Fla.) coach Ferne Labati.
But Auriemma (822-130) has the second-best winning percentage (.863) in NCAA women’s basketball history for a reason. None of those 10 coaches mentioned has a winning record against him.
Perretta is 11-35 after that 0-8 start. Foley lost the last eight meetings to fall to 10-19. Though he left in 1996, he is still the last Providence coach to lead the Friars past the Huskies on March 7, 1993. McGraw is 9-29 even with five wins in the last six games against UConn. Summitt, who retired before this season, finished 9-13 (0-4 in national championship games). Stringer is 8-29, 2-0 at Iowa and 6-29 at Rutgers.
Mullaney was 7-18 against Auriemma’s Huskies in his time at St. John’s. Plotzke was 6-13. VanDerveer fell to 6-8 with Stanford’s 61-35 loss to UConn on Dec. 29. Jacobs was 5-10, while Labati was 5-18 with 18 straight losses after winning the first five.
Only two more coaches have as many as four wins against Auriemma’s teams: North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell (4-7) and ex-Pittsburgh coach Kirk Bruce (4-23).